Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf Crisis Tests US Military Skill Iraqi Invasion Renews Interest in More-Mobile Forces

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf Crisis Tests US Military Skill Iraqi Invasion Renews Interest in More-Mobile Forces

Article excerpt

THE rapid deployment of United States military forces to Saudi Arabia has become a major test of the Pentagon's ability to handle the security threats of the post-cold-war era.

For decades the Defense Department leadership has spent much of its time planning for a face-off with the Soviet Union in central Europe. Suddenly, almost faster than you can say the words "budget authority," the Soviet threat has greatly eased while a third-world dictator has emerged as a menace to US interests.

Though US officials won't make specific projections, it now appears clear the US Gulf deployment will involve hundreds of thousands of troops, last for months, and cost well over $1 billion. When it is over, the Pentagon itself, and the way defense officials think about the world, will be ineradicably changed.

"No one should assume this is easy, or is going to be wrapped up very quickly, or without a significant US effort," said Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney earlier this week.

As of this writing, planes carrying US troops and military equipment were landing in Saudi Arabia at the rate of one every 10 minutes. Defense officials say at least 5,000 US troops had already arrived, and numbers would swell to at least 50,000 in coming weeks. Disembarking troops said they had been told to plan on staying in the country at least four to six months, according to a dispatch filed by a pool of Pentagon reporters.

Meanwhile, Navy officials said a fourth aircraft carrier would sail for the Gulf next week, joining a total of some 40 US warships already there.

The US and Britain have ordered their warships to intercept and board any vessel trying to break UN-sponsored sanctions against Iraq. On Tuesday, a British frigate intercepted a Cyprus-registered tanker off Dubai and asked the vessel about its cargo and destination, shipping executives said. Also, an Iraqi tanker turned away from the Saudi port of Yanbu because no tugs would guide it.

Pakistan has joined Syria and Morocco in saying it will send troops to bolster Saudi Arabia against the threat posed by nearly 200,000 Iraqi troops in or near occupied Kuwait.

No matter what happens in the weeks and months ahead, one change in the US military structure already seems clear: Central Command, the part of the military responsible for the Middle East region, will finally be regarded the equal of its more established brethren.

CentCom was set up in response to President Carter's declaration that the US would fight to protect Gulf oil - though at the time the primary threat was thought to be Soviet adventurism in the region. Since its inception, CentCom has been a sort of Pentagon stepchild. It has no troops to call its own, relying on units that were also assigned to go to Europe in a significant crisis. Without actual bases in its region of responsibility, it has struggled to preposition equipment in the area and to build a logistics network that would serve a Gulf crisis contingency. …

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